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Smoky Valley Teacher Finalist for Kansas Teacher of the Year

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LINDSBORG, Kan.Gretchen Elliott, an art teacher at Smoky Valley High School, and Erin Pittenger, an elementary teacher at St. George Elementary School were named Region 1 finalists for the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year award program during a ceremony Saturday, April 1, in Salina.  

This award recognizes excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. The Kansas Teacher of the Year Region 1 Awards Banquet took place at Tony’s Pizza Event Center in Salina. 

As finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction, Pittenger and Elliott each will receive a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit, the major corporate partner for the Kansas Teacher of the Year program. In addition, they are each now eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, which will be announced during a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 23, in Wichita.  

Pittenger and Elliott were among six Teacher of the Year semifinalists from Region 1, which covers the first U.S. congressional district. 

Other semifinalists were, Lindsey Graham a first-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, Clay Center USD 379; Chantay Hill, a third-grade teacher at Heusner Elementary School, Salina USD 305; Kelly Estes, a special education teacher at Wamego High School, Wamego USD 320; and Karl Stover, an agriculture teacher at Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth USD 327.

Other area nominees at the elementary level included Buhler Grade School 3rd grade teacher Courtney Adkins, Lyons Park School 1st grade teacher Tawanna Berry, Great Bend Eisenhower Elementary School 3rd grade teacher Molly Brown, Haven Grade School kindergarten teacher Cori Krol, McPherson Washington Elementary School 4th and 5th-grade special education teacher Meghan Mai, and Hutchinson Wiley Elementary School 1st grade teacher Lachelle Spann.

Secondary nominees from the area included Hutchinson High School science teacher Brian McCandless, Buhler High School math teacher Brian Moler, Lyons Middle and High School band director Andrew Scherer, and McPherson High School director of bands Kyle Unruh.

Each of the semi-finalists will receive a red marble apple with a wooden base, compliments of The Master Teacher in Manhattan. 

This year, 124 educators across the state were nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction.  

Nominations were made in each of the four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), the sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators, and higher education representatives to select semi-finalists and finalists from each region.  

Each panel selects six semifinalists – three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists.   

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance, and the teaching profession.  

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serves as an ambassador for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession. 

The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year is eligible for national distinction as National Teacher of the Year. 

The National Teacher of the Year program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation. 

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